excerpted from above
“Between 1760 and 1830, the Jamaican Legislature passed 49 bills granting patents for improved methods in sugar and rum production. Of these, 34 were for innovations in the infernal sugar crushing mills. It should be said that there were also many agricultural patents at the same time in the mother country, but they were mostly concerned with how to prepare manure or improve irrigation. Machinery patents were in the distinct minority. The most important patents in Jamaica were undoubtedly those that involved the application of steam power to the sugar mill. It would take at least 30 years for steam power to be as important in the British textile mills, a cornerstone of the industrial revolution.”
In keeping with the interesting findings in Cliff Conner’s “People’s History of Science,” Satchell reveals that many of the patents were the inspiration of artisans working on the mills, most of whom were slaves rather than scientists off in a laboratory. The slaves themselves occupied a sort of netherworld between abject field work and free labor. Satchell writes:
Nevertheless, slaves were the principal artisans, and they worked in foundries. My considered view here is that the slaves actively participated in inventing new techniques and equipment pertinent to the sugar industry. My position is based on two premises. First (as stated before), slaves were the principal artisans in the island. In Jamaica there was a paucity of White artisans, so there developed an almost total reliance on the artisan slaves. Planters relied heavily on slave labour for all aspects of plantation life; it is for this reason that Douglas Hall concludes that the slave was a ‘multi-purpose tool’.33 Barry Higman notes that at the time of emancipation in 1834 compensation was paid for 17,873 artisan slaves, representing 5.74 per cent of the total slave population. These included blacksmiths, millwrights, coopers, wheelwrights, masons, plumbers, carpenters, coppersmiths and engineers.
Many of these slaves came from an area of Africa that had a highly sophisticated understanding of metallurgy. The West African coast, from which most Jamaican slaves originated, had developed complex skills in working iron and became blacksmiths in the Americas, either free or slave. Their activities included the manufacturing and repair of machinery, as well as making arms and ammunition. One sugar planter reported that his slaves “perform all manner of foundry work the greater portion of which cannot be performed by any other establishment in the island.” Indeed, as the former slaves of Cuba would eventually discover, they could do all this without the plantation owner himself.